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Grind that Garbage
November 19th, 2007

The people at Neighborhood Retail Alliance have played Gotham Gazettes Garbage Game, and they object to the games alternative for food waste. The game provides the player with three options: Throw it in the trash, sort it for composting by the city (a service New York does not provide but other cities do) or compost it yourself. This will go over real well on the East Side in the multi-million dollar co-ops, and in the housing projects of the South Bronx where the residents see quite enough wild life, than you very much, the retail blog writes.

Instead, the alliance thinks New Yorkers should put their food waste down the drain to be ground up by a disposal and then go into the sewage system. This was not an option in the game, in part because New Yorks sewer system is already overburdened, and garbage disposals seem to have made little dent in the five boroughs. (It could also reflect at least one GG staff members childhood memories of clogged disposals and the nightly post-dinner racket as the grinder tried to do something with potato peels, chicken bones and the occasional stray fork.)

What do you think? Should we have included garbage grinders as an option? Were there other alternatives we should have considered? Play the game and let us know.

By on November 19, 2007, 1:10 pm
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Tech | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “Grind that Garbage”

  1. Mike Muller Says:
    November 19th, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    As a form of disclosure, it should be noted – since the Alliance blog doesn’t do so – that Richard Lipsky has been a paid lobbyist in support of garbage grinders. Most recently, the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a consortium of small businesses for whom Lipsky blogs, had him lobby the council last year about the issue. He was compensated with $120,000 that year by the group for all of his lobbying efforts.

  2. Kendall Christiansen Says:
    November 19th, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    After a decade of study and debate, a comprehensive report by DEP in 1997 settled the issue of residential/household food waste disposers – finding that their public benefits significantly outweighed their de minimus impacts (and that was before Fresh Kills closed). Again at the Council’s request, DEP is now studying the efficacy of commercial disposers – which Philadelpia essentially requires of food-related businesses.

    NYC currently sends @ 5,000 tons per day of food waste via collection trucks and transfer stations to distant landfills; every step of that process causes environmental damage, the most potent of which is generation of methane gas at landfills.

    But food waste is mostly water — it’s liquid, not solid waste, and as common sense would suggest, is remarkably similar to human waste. Unknown to most New Yorkers, the City has remarkable success at its wastewater treatment plants with creating three products: clean water, biosolids/fertilizer products (nearly 100% beneficially reused), and energy (via methane capture). (Disposers are not the cause of CSO’s, and don’t contribute enough volume to make them worse; food waste also isn’t the cause of nitrogen in discharged water, but that’s another story.)

    Realistically, with “free garbage collection” for residential buildings, it will take NYC a generation for residential disposers to make a difference – although NYCHA and Battery Park City are two prominent examples of rapid adoption for reasons including pest management. But it’s an even bigger stretch to imagine NYC creating an effective system for otherwise separating, collecting and managing kitchen scraps — the costs and logistics would be overwhelming, with low participation and high contamination likely. And there’s essentially no capacity in the Northeast for composting of residential – or even commercial – food waste.

    So let’s not lose sight of the goal: food waste sent to landfills is a significant contributor to GHG emissions, while wasting the embedded liquid and organic value. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of food scraps to satisfy several different approaches, but keeping it simple for homeowners and tenants via use of disposers merits being at the top of the list.

    A final anecdote: my Brooklyn household of three adults and three teens has not placed any food waste at the curb in ten years – that’s more than five tons diverted from DSNY trucks and landfills, instead diverted to wastewater treatment plants for processing into pellets that fertilize orange groves in Florida.

    The “wisdom of crowds” in over 50 million U.S. homes and tens of thousands of communities, in the UK “sink your waste” is growing in popularity as the preferred means of avoiding the impending EU penalties for landfilling organics.

  3. Carolyn Konheim Says:
    November 21st, 2007 at 11:41 am

    My firm extensively researched the techical basis of the findings that Kendall reports above–as well as researchng other cities’ experience with GG. For example, the recycling director for LA’s model program said “we couldn’t do it without required GGs.”

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